City pedals fast to keep pace with bike growth

If you somehow haven’t noticed the surge in bicyclists in San Francisco in recent years, a new report from the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency can fill you in: Biking is so hot right now.

Annual bicycle counts have more than doubled in The City since 2006, and commuting by bike surged 66 percent between 2002 and 2010, according to the 2012 San Francisco State of Bicycling report released this week.

A burgeoning web of bicycle routes, painted rights-of-way and secure bike racks has helped get San Franciscans out of their car seats and onto their bike seats.

About 65 miles of bike routes now criss-cross The City, a 65 percent increase since 2008. Bike racks have jumped 85 percent since 2008, with nearly 2,600 peppered around San Francisco.

While The City has worked to expand its bicycle infrastructure, though, it’s done so on the cheap. A severe lack of separated bikeways — coupled with the intimidating prospect of City traffic — still worries and deters many would-be cyclists.

Painted stripes on the pavement are relatively inexpensive and send the right message, but they do nothing to protect bicyclists from the very real hazards around every corner.

Expensive but much safer protected bikeways are key to increasing bicycle ridership and overall safety. The Panhandle will soon connect with protected bikeways on Fell and Oak, while a bike-friendly Masonic “Boulevard” was just approved by the MTA.

The City is hoping these and other new projects — like a 50-station bike-sharing pilot program in the works — will help carry bicycling to new heights in by the end of the decade.

Two separate random surveys cited by the report showed 3.5 percent of all trips in The City are made by bicycle. The MTA wants to boost that to an ambitious 20 percent by 2020.

To do that, cycling advocates say The City needs to pick up the pace on infrastructure. Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, told the MTA board of directors on Tuesday:

“… the leading cause of behavior change, when it comes to encouraging more people to bike, and encouraging more people to bike safely and respectfully, is infrastructure. It is making safer streets.”